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Reducing The Pain While Recovering From Knee Surgery

by Stella Robinson

Your knee will be weak and stiff when you get home from the hospital after major knee surgery. Your doctor will have you rest for several days before starting physical therapy on the knee. Once you begin, the muscles and tendons in your knee affected by the surgery will ache as you stretch them out and strengthen them. You will have some pain, but you have several ways to manage that pain so you can have a comfortable recovery at home.

Medication Management

You'll leave the hospital with one or more pain medication prescriptions from your doctor. These are best taken on a regular basis so your body has the medication in it before the pain begins and peaks. Waiting until the pain in your knee is severe to take the medication is not effective. Have a regular schedule for taking the medication, even if you feel no pain in the moment. Your doctor will tell you how many weeks you can expect to stay on this medication schedule so you can recover with little or no pain.

Continuous Passive Motion (CPM) Devices

For the first few days after surgery, your knee will be stiff and painful to move. CPM consists of a device which cradles your leg while you're in bed and moves it slowly through its normal range of motion. This slowly stretches out the tense muscles in your knee in preparation for starting physical therapy. Once the swelling has gone down in your knee, and you can move it yourself, you'll have no need for the CPM machine.

Aquatic Physical Therapy

When you start your physical therapy sessions, the therapist will evaluate the level of pain you're having in your knee. If it is too great, you may resist doing the therapy and home exercises needed to get your knee back into shape. The physical therapist may recommend doing aquatic physical therapy in a pool where the water supports the weight of your leg as you exercise. Your knee will still get a good workout in the pool, but you'll be much more comfortable as you work on the range of motion exercises.


An acupuncture session prior to or right after a physical therapy session may also help control the pain. Tiny needles are inserted just under the skin around nerve centers that control the pain in your knee. Acupuncture increases the circulation in your knee which reduces inflammation and pain. Natural pain killers, called endorphins, are also released by your body in response to this treatment which gives you some immediate short term relief from the pain.